July 06, 2015

America Honored

July 4th – Independence Day for Americans, Saturday for the rest of the world – marked the end of three weeks spent honoring America:

Before we go back to dishonoring America, I want to share a few words in praise of prose about flags – specifically, in praise of presidential proclamations celebrating the American flag.1

I've read the last 70 years of presidential Flag Day proclamations. They're brief and simple and often follow the same pattern. Usually, they open with the creation of the American flag in 1777. The Continental Congress resolved: "that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."

After citing this in his proclamation, the president will list various sightings of the American flag:

Ronald Reagan2
when the British surrendered to General Washington at Yorktown
when our soldiers battled at Iwo Jima
when Admiral Peary reached the North Pole
the Marne
the Moon
on the side of the Space Shuttle Columbia as she circled the Earth

Bill Clinton
over smoky battlefields and peaceful demonstrations
the beaches of Normandy
the jungles of Vietnam
the deserts of Iraq and Somalia
the depths of Earth's oceans
the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon
in Oklahoma
on the sleeves of rescue workers
emergency personnel
on the shoulders of those who each day risk their lives to protect the public safety
from public buildings as a sign of our national community
on missions of exploration
on missions of mercy
wherever else Americans strive to express their precious freedoms in the face of adversity
wherever our questing spirits have been willing to venture

George W. Bush
over the debris of the World Trade Center
at the Pentagon
on cars
hard hats
during the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City

on the podiums of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games
the banks of Baltimore's Inner Harbor
European trenches
Pacific islands
the deserts of Iraq
the mountains of Afghanistan
duty stations stretched around the globe
over the institutions that sustain our Nation at home and abroad
above monuments and memorials
beside the halls of government
capitol buildings
atop skyscrapers
over farmlands
town squares
our homes and storefronts
small-town storefronts
storefronts and homes3

And, of course, "over the land of the free and the home of the brave." To me, though, that's not just the borders of 50 states, 16 territories, and one federal district.

The (French) Marquis de Lafayette rejoiced at US victory in the Revolutionary War: "America is assured her independence; mankind's cause is won, and liberty is no longer homeless on earth." Lafayette was buried in a Paris cemetery, under American soil per his request, and an American flag has flown above his grave ever since (~180 years). If the US fell of the map, liberty would not be homeless on earth. It would still have a plot in Picpus Cemetery, or at least some space on a storefront.

1. I'll publish my review of The Vexillologist's Reader on another occasion.
2. In 1986, Reagan lets us know that "in recent years, citizen awareness, interest, and appreciation of the flag and its relationship to our American heritage have increased. More American families and businesses are buying and displaying the flag."
3. Obama is obsessed with storefronts.

You can read all the presidential proclamations at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/proclamations.php.

April 21, 2015

The Weal of the Convert

You know what they say: Ain't no zealot like a newly-found zealot, cos a newly-found zealot don't stop.Someone raised in a non-Christian household may become born again and dazzle congregations of lifelong Christians. Someone raised in a fundamentalist Christian household may become a hardcore occultist and shock everyone into mistaking him for a Satanist.

The zeal of the convert is not a phenomenon exclusive to religion, but can occur when someone chooses any new group identity for themselves. One argument for why converts practise so strongly is that they want to prove themselves to others in the group.

This argument was advanced in the landmark court case, N.W.A v. The Police Department (1988). In testimony to the presiding Judge Dre, Ice Cube exhorted everyone to disrespect law enforcement officers, particularly if pulled over for a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion, but made one exception –
... don't let it be a black and a white one
'Cause they'll slam ya down to the street top
Black police showing out for the white cop
The 'convert' in this case is a black man in a historically white police force. Mr Cube suggested that because the officer is himself a targeted racial minority, he will use excessive force to demonstrate he's of one mind with the majority of police, and "police think they have the authority to kill a minority". No police officers testified before Judge Dre, so we can only speculate about a black officer's defense for assaulting a black "teenager with a bit of gold and a pager". But I reckon the black cop acts to prove his loyalty not only to white cops but to himself.

I think this because of the way Scots reacted to American independence in 1776. "Many influential Scots" showed out for the white cop – i.e. the English – and "seized on the American war as a means to underline their political reliability to London, deliberately contrasting their own ostentatious loyalty with American disobedience..." (Colley, pp. 138–9).

The Scottish were new to Parliament because the British parliament was new. It was only 70 years prior that Scotland united with England2 to form Great Britain, and Scotland waged armed rebellion against Great Britain only 40 years before the Americans did. Many English3 sympathised with the American cause, but the Scots who felt themselves a suspicious minority expressed "ostentatious loyalty" to demonstrate they were of one mind with the greater nation.

Scots weren't just showing out, though. They were working out their new citizenship4 with the English in different ways:
[1] Some returned home as soon as they could, deeply alienated and disillusioned. [2] Others stayed on as foreign mercenaries, taking what advantage they could from their new surroundings while remaining fundamentally aloof. [3] Still others ... were turned into perpetual exiles by the experience, feeling themselves too Scottish to settle comfortably in England, yet becoming too English ever to return to their native land. [4] But some, particularly the most successful, were able to reconcile their Scottish past with their English present by the expedient of regarding themselves as British (Colley, p. 125).
I'm an American. I haven't returned home from Britain as soon as I could have [1], and I don't want turn into a perpetual exile [3]. It's fun for me to pretend I'm a scab [2]:

"Those fellows peculated our erstwhile positions of employment!"

But that's only a way to hide my anxiety. I don't regard myself as British and don't plan to [4], but I do want to reconcile my American past to my British present.5 I feel fundamentally unsettled and will remain a little aloof until I figure out how to reconcile my nationality with my residency.6

Being black and a police officer or being Scottish and British are not mutually exclusive identities, and it's not necessary for a black Scotsman to resort to violence to prove himself:

Our social practices elaborate, for us and others, who we are in the world. We exercise ourselves to know who we are where we are, but belief itself can power our practice – because, thank God, our selves precede police and passports:
For essential beauty is infinite, and, as the soul of Nature needs an endless succession of varied forms to embody her loveliness, countless faces of beauty springing forth, not any two the same, at every one of her heart-throbs; so the individual form needs an infinite change of its environments, to enable it to uncover all the phases of its loveliness.
George MacDonald, Phantastes

1. I've never heard anybody say this.
2. & Wales
3. & Welsh
4. subjecthood
5. Sometimes, I do this by professing my London present. It's easier to claim belonging in a world-class city than a new country. In fairness to my cop-out, I don't want to live anywhere else in England and would, in fact, rather live in Scotland than not-London England.
6. Employer sponsorship of a Tier 2 general visa would help.

February 16, 2015

Sail the Five Cs, steer through the storms

Sorry, Persian and Arabian. It's nothing personal.

At speech camp, they taught us to illustrate our points using The Five Cs:

1.   Character and context
2.   Conflict
3.   Choice
4.   Consequence
5.   Conclusion

For example,

1.   It's 1992, and President George H.W. Bush is running for re-election against Governor Bill Clinton.
2.   Many undecided voters think Bush is old and out-of-touch, and he's trailing behind Clinton, the good-ol'-boy from Arkansas.
3.   Bush decides to stage a campaign visit to a supermarket so that voters will see him as an ordinary man. All goes well as he walks through the store, greeting employees. When shaking hands with the cashiers, however...
4.   Bush marvels at the red laser-beam barcode scanners, and he praises American innovation. He doesn't know that barcode scanners have been ubiquitous at checkout counters for at least 10 years. To undecided voters, the gaff confirms that President Bush is out-of-touch, and he falls further behind in the polls. Clinton will become the next president of the United States.

"And what is this electronic abacus you have here?"

5.   Don't try to be someone you're not; prepare yourself before facing a challenge outside your comfort zone; go to a grocery store at least once a decade.

The fifth C is the take-home lesson and not a part of the story, but the first four Cs are essential. Imagine this story without the second and third Cs.

1.   It's 1992, and President George H.W. Bush is running for re-election against Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton.
4.   Undecided voters think that President Bush is old and out-of-touch, and he's behind in the polls. Clinton becomes the next president of the United States.
5.   Well, you can't win 'em all.

Lacking conflict and choice, this is just a summary of events punctuated with a sigh. Anyone hearing this "story" will probably punctuate it themselves with a yawn.

If we face it, conflict gifts us with choice, and that gives life to our own stories. Conflict sounds scary, but talking around it makes for a life full of sighs and yawns.

Conflict *gasp!* challenges past choices. Consider mid-19th-century Siam. Before the king from The King and I supposedly danced and romanced with his British governess, he courted the British Empire.

I think this is way more romantic.

King Mongkut's predecessor, Rama III, spent his reign set against the West and its rising influence in the lands around his kingdom. On his deathbed, he warned: "There will be no more wars with Vietnam and Burma. We will have them only with the West." When Mongkut acceded to the throne, the type of neighboring conflicts which plagued his paranoid-but-prescient predecessor had not died down.

The Taiping Rebellion was spreading across southern China; Hong Kong was now a British colony and in a lull between opium wars; The US had sailed warships into Tokyo and demanded Japan open for business after two centuries of seclusion.

Mongkut lifted the ban on opium in 1852 and signed a monumental treaty with the British in 1855. He stopped avoiding change like the king before him had. He recognized the moment of conflict around him and chose to do something new. Historiography has judged this variously, but there were no wars with the West in the way Rama III predicted. Siam was no-one's colony.

For those who aren't kings or emperors, any choice is still empowering. Take, for instance, the best-dressed of Brazzaville: the sapeurs, clept after La Sape: "Society for the Advancement of Elegant People".

Hector Madiavilla/Splash/Corbis
"The white man may have invented clothes, but we turned it into an art." – 'King' Kester Emeneya

The Republic of the Congo is war-torn and depressed, but citizens put their pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. If you were getting up to earn your $10 for the day, which pants would you choose to put on? Armani or Gucci? I'd wear Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX Champions sweatpants, but I don't face the challenge of daily life in Republic of Congo, and that's not ironic fashion in Brazzaville. One sapeur explains: "Even if I don't have money in my pocket, I only need to wear a suit and tie to feel really at ease." These men choose to pay an arm and a leg to dress like they do, figuratively, and their days are brighter.

When you face conflict and choose a way to deal with it, the consequences of that choice comprise the lived experience that supports your conclusions. The stories we tell ourselves form our future, and there's no life in a story with just three C's.

The assumption behind all the action, the first C, is that one character enacts a story, but we're never the only character. Although we all have to answer for our own actions, we don't have to enter conflicts alone, and we don't have to make decisions by ourselves. Reckoning your actions with who's above you and who's beside you, however, is not something they teach you at speech camp.

January 14, 2015

Are these 7 couples REALLY still together?


Click-baited again. No ad revenue for me again— just the satisfaction of a hit on my stats counter. Onto the honest title and real article.

7 Funny Overlapping Acronyms

1. BM = Bowel movement; British Museum
The arts editor of The Economist delivered a public lecture at the LSE, and I fought back laughter each time she said, "I know BM best," or "BM solved the problem of overflow on weekends...." I don't go in for toilet humor, but I live to juxtapose high and low culture. Nothing is lower culture than material evacuating through colons, slumped prostrate on hospital bedsheets. I will spare you a picture.

2. DD = Bra size; doctor of divinity
If braziers fit any theological study, they must form revisionist exegesis of the (X-Rated) Song of Solomon. But if buxom concubines in ancient Israel did wear bras, they were probably fitted according to ephahs or cubits or something, not the un-invented Roman alphabet.

Perhaps I think small thoughts. Plenty of women are DDs, and many women are vicars. Statistically, someone must have both a pair and a parish.

(nothing to proportion, scale, or good taste)

3. LBC = Leading Britain's Conversation; Long Beach, California
London has a radio station called Leading Britain's Conversation. Every Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg answers listeners' questions live on air, and the mayor of London does so on the first Tuesday of every month. These are called LBC Phone-Ins.

Snoop Dogg often informs his listeners that he hails from Long Beach, California, e.g. "With so much drama in the L-B-C. It's kinda hard bein Snoop D-O-double-G". British politicians are many things, but cool is not one of them. I die like 5-0 every time I hear that they're on the LBC.

"I'm as concerned as anybody about the chronic unemployment figures in east London."

4. NHK = Japanese news network (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai); Dutch Reformed Church (Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk)
This is the most obscure acronym in the list, but I think the world needs a Calvinist Hello Kitty.

Five points to whoever gets the tulip. Not everyone will get the tulip.

American TV viewers can find NHK in the valley between PBS and C-SPAN. It's the same channel that airs Al Jazeera and BBC World News. There was no NHK on the island of Japan until national broadcast radio launched in 1925. Back when the country isolated itself from the world (1641–1853), the Dutch were the only foreign power allowed to run a trading post into the country, partly because they made no missionary efforts to reform the Japanese.

5. PRC = People's Republic of China; file format extension of Amazon Kindle books
China or Amazon – which one really allows for freedom of speech? Wake up, sheeple, to the Amazonian wolf at your door. First they put predatory prices on print books out of pure malice for small bookshops, and then they addict us to Prime digital books that, it turns out, we don't even own! What will Amazon do next? I think they should show their true colors: claim islands in the South China Sea.

That's right. Jeff Bezos wants Manila.

6. SA = Salvation Army, Nazi brown-shirts (Sturmabteilung)
I make no comparison. Just giving a fun fact!

7. STD = Sexually transmitted disease; Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society
The acronym STI (sexually transmitted infection) is used more than STD, but I want to get it out there that the organization of student wordsmiths is, in abbreviation, venereal disease. To be fair, STD was not in use as a medical term until World War II. But coincidentally, Sigma Tau Delta formed the same year (1924) as the first World Health Organization multilateral treaty "respecting... the treatment of venereal diseases."

I've read that many college students experiment with drugs, sex, and alcohol, so there must be some who are in STD with an STD. Whom can these bookworms model? The pantheon of writers abounds with alcoholics and drug-addicts, but I'm not aware of any authors mythologized for copulating unto the point of illness. Like sophomore English majors, we can speculate without research nonetheless.

Going way back, we know that Shakespeare sired a child out of wedlock and spent his career hanging around a theatre frequented by groundlings. Looking at the last century, I bet The Beats didn't carry prophylactics on the road with them, and Arthur Miller was married to Marilyn Monroe. She couldn't even sing "Happy Birthday" without trying to seduce someone. Also in the pantheon is Hunter S. Thompson. QED.

You may enjoy my five other Sevens:
7 things you do that YOU WON'T BELIEVE you used to hate
7 Reasons/Ways I celebrate Black History Month
7 People who should, but never ever will, work together
7 Things I Lost Escaping My Uncertain Fate (of '07 or '08)
Christmas List in July [7 items]

November 30, 2014

First as normal, then as wistful

Acknowledging that you're taking things for granted is not taking things for granted.

At least, I assume this in good faith of others. That man who jaywalks across Whitehall to work is probably a good guy, despite his aggressive stride. And I excuse that person who wore a hoodie, jeans, and moccasins to dinner on the Viking cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki. I grant, even, that someone who lives in Malibu and avoids direct sunlight, if pale as a vampire, is not vampiric at heart.

No, no. I'm talking about three different people.

I suspect that someone who would do such things doesn't debase the Good as a sadist does; though perhaps satisfying his or her own need to stand out, this person is probably hiding his or her 'whelmed-ness at knowing such riches and is acclimating to having them.

For our brains exercise extraordinary plasticity across environments, and real life snaps our heads out of the clouds. In Elf, Buddy's childlike discovery of New York had to end for the film to have a plot, and even characters in Terrence Malick movies don't stay happy forever. C.S. Lewis does describe a life of unbroken and innocent delight in Perelandra, but that book is set on Venus.

I'm not fond of The Descendants, but Clooney's opening voice-over puts this better than I can:
"My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation – we're all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we're immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed-up, our cancers less fatal, our heartaches less painful? Hell, I haven't been on a surfboard in 15 years. For the last 23 days, I've been living in a paradise of IVs and urine bags and tracheal tubes. Paradise? Paradise can f*** itself."
I hear a pensioner shouting: "Stop and smell the roses!" Indeed, sir, one must and should, but there's always stuff that needs doing elsewhere in the garden... I'll get off your lawn now.

You have a thesis draft and five newspaper articles to write by tomorrow.

Life's circumstances may fall into recession, of course, and we may fall into depression irrespective of circumstances. (There's that plastic brain for you again.) But when you have to tighten your belt—or, perhaps, loosen it in fattening shame—try to keep from escapism and regret.

Don't live in the past. We all saw how that messed up Cobb in Inception, wrecking his present and imperiling everyone around him. And don't kick your past self for all those hours you used to waste because, be real with yourself, you'd love to waste them again. You can enjoy anew what you used to float through. If you're sitting in the dark, sigh sweetly for the hours wasted when all things were shining.

Bottom line. I know I'm #soblessed where I am right now.1 Today's bounty of fruit might run out, but I could never squeeze it all dry before that happens.

That's all right. We enjoy years of plenty by living them as ordinary. If they pass, we can enjoy them nostalgically without resenting ourselves for that. First as normal, then as wistful, but always thankful.

1. Meta-first-world problem: trying to acceptably phrase humblebrag-sounding circumstances when answering, "What are you doing these days?"

September 28, 2014

What are Kool and The Gang saying to YOU?

I'm currently floating through space and time, and I hear the song 'Get Down On It' whenever I find some solid ground. I'm not playing this song, but someone is always playing it around me. Clearly, this is of cosmic significance, and I must divine the message—line by line. Success not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

Hey, hey, yeah, what you gonna do? You wanna get down?
Tell me, what you gonna do? Do you wanna get down?
This is crisis decision-making. Do I want to risk my life and go out to Syria to stop the heinous crimes of Isis? Ought I drop everything and aid the Ebola victims in West Africa?

What you gonna do? You wanna get down?
Get your back up off the wall, dance, come on
The world has built up an edifice of ease on which we in the West could indefinitely lean, but is slouching any way to live? Complacency is no longer an option. Kool's is a pragmatic, immediate injunction, and The Gang is calling:
Get your back up off the wall, dance, come on
Dance! Go forth into all the world's wallow, your heart pounding with joy... I think.

Get down on it, get down on it
Get down on it, get down on it
Come on and
Get down on it, get down on it
Get down on it, get down on it
Well. I've followed you thus far, Kool, Gang, and you have inspired me. But what is it on which you want me to get down? I can tell this is your central message. Please help me understand.

How you gonna do it if you really don't wannna dance
By standing on the wall?
Get your back up off the wall
Yes, the reiteration stresses the global, existential importance to act boldly and now.
Tell me, how you gonna do it if you really don't wanna dance
By standing on the wall?
Get your back up off the wall

'Cause I heard all the people sayin'
Get down on it
Vox populi, vox dei. Whereas I assented to Kool's clarion call, I now know it to be the cry of all humanity. Frustrating me still, though, is the hitherto undisclosed "it" on which I'm supposed to get down.
Come on and
Get down on it
If you really want it
With the strength of Zarathustra, I do; only tell me what it is!
Get down on it
You gotta feel it
This is not just a matter of intellect or will, but the heart. Okay, I will so commit, but I still await specific instruction.
Get down on it
Get down on it

I say people
What you gonna do?
I don't know!
You've gotta get on the groove
If you want your body to move, tell me, baby
I'm gonna need you to caesura there, Kool. I can accept "getting on the groove" as an uncommonly enthusiastic Taoist epithet, but wanting my "body to move" is quite literal. Also, Kool, I appreciate your affection, I really do, but it's emasculating to be called "baby" at a time when I need all potency, apparently even bodily, to marshal my descent "on it."

How you gonna do it if you really don't wanna dance
By standing on the wall?
Get your back up off the wall
Tell me, how you gonna do it if you really won't take a chance
I'll take the chance if you'll tell me what it's for. Frankly, I'm losing interest.
By standing on the wall?
Get your back up off the wall

'Cause I heard all the people sayin'
Has the public cried out anew, or are you recounting the prior outcry? You seem wont to repeat.
Get down on it
Get down on it

What you gonna do? Do you wanna get down?
I thought I did.
What you gonna do?
Tell me, "baby."
Get your back up off the wall, dance, come on
Get your back up off the wall, dance, come on
Get your back up off the wall

Get down on it

How you gonna do it if you really don't wanna dance

Listen, baby, you know it when you dancin', yeah
I don't know it. I really, really don't. I'm even dancing (metaphysically), and I still don't understand.
You show it when you move, move, move
Demonstrable only to you.
You know it when you dancin', yeah
You show it as you move across the block
City block, cell block, or Soviet bloc? You're raising more questions that need answers, Kool. I'm happy to shout along with The Gang, but you're not being forthcoming about what you want from me or what you want me to want.

Get down on it
What you gonna do? Do you wanna get down?
et al., ad infinitum

I did not find the heart of this dance hit by tearing it limb from limb. Kool and his gang indicate that I must find my heart by tearing it up on the dance floor with my limbs. Not having dance grounds, I have nevertheless removed my back from the wall and wanna get down. I remain confident that I will soon get down on it.

September 12, 2014

7 things you do that YOU WON'T BELIEVE you used to hate

This piece is not about 'you' but me. (Joke's on you. I already got your pageview for my stats.) And of relevance to the great changes happening in my life—completing a master's degree, flat hunting, friends moving away, vocation re-focusing, starting a new service at church—this has none. So, for the fifth time, here's seven things. I've omitted cantaloupe from this list, but I didn't use to like cantaloupe.

1. Preferring button flies
Buying clothes in central London poses challenges not found at the Old Navy in Danada West. Chiefly, all pants (trousers) are slim fit, and they're usually secured with button flies rather than zippers. I shuddered at these inexcusable conventions when first I dredged the TJ (TK) Maxx by The Gherkin. Now, I'm prone to tear at the zipper on my monthly-disintegrating jeans from Primark. Alas, if I owned trousers of consistent fastenings I would not suffer this cognitive dissonance, but I now prefer button flies just 'cause more of my pants use them. And because of additional Pavlovian conditioning, I now perceive straight-cut jeans as bell-bottoms. Crikey.

This is almost as good as the lip sink I shopped.

2. Liking films with no plots
This goes with difficult and opaque poetry and much borderline hipster nonsense. I don't know what happened, you guys. You go from watching Adam Sandler's Jack & Jill ironically, and soon you're hunting through the Guardian to see what's doing well at TIFF. I'm only parroting other authors when I call Thomas Jefferson a 'sphinx' and Julian Assange a 'cipher', but there is no excuse for my curating the Wikipedia page on post-irony and getting excited about normcore. The worst part about sinking into these warm, murky waters is that I want to swim in them. I still ponder Rick Alverson's character study about a guy just kinda living; I never stop thinking about The Comedy and am genuinely excited for his next project. In interviews, Alverson is the epitome of a self-important and self-styled auteur, and I hate that I love the work he's doing.

3. Letting my computer get scratched up and messily annotating texts
Hazards and habits of doing archival and library research. There's no time for OCD at Kew or St. Pancras when you're working in the brief overlap of your waking hours with their opening hours, feeding on the precious information that sustains the life of your mind. That is, there's no time for OCD with your own items. I wouldn't dream of damaging their materials. That's a felony and a war crime.

4. Doing the Indian head nod
I have not visited India. I have no friends from India. I'm not into Bollywood films. I find this expression of ambiguity annoying. But now, if I'm not politely nodding along to the banal ramblings of recent acquaintances, this is the most common way I shake my head.

5. Pointing with my middle finger
I'm not 80 years old. I'm not unaware that extending the middle finger is an offensive gesture. I'm not into flipping off strangers. I find using the middle finger for any purpose socially disquieting. But now, if I'm not throwing both my thumbs up in over-eager greetings and farewells, I'm using my middle finger to navigate everyday life.

I have no idea what this means.

6. Keeping ticket stubs
Colin Stetson, Deltron 3030, Neil Hamburger—these are some of the artists I've enjoyed seeing and whose show's ticket stubs I've saved to use as bookmarks. None of these ticket stubs are narrow and long enough to be useful bookmarks, so I must be a hoarder. Hoarding is having one corner of one drawer stacked with six more slips of paper than you'd like, right?

Stan Lee or Alex Trebek?

7. Drinking white wine and multiple cups of coffee
Neither taste good or are good for you. Both are addictive but not addictions of mine. I suppose the subpoint to this one, and this whole list, is that I've shrugged off trying to understand "even the most minute and obvious aspects of everyday life." It's all good in the hood, and it's all right 'cause it's all white. I hath been brought here safe thus far, and that'll do, pig.

July 01, 2014

21 _/Pizza Hut\_ jokes

I've hit a wall writing 42 Pedantic Jokes & Why They Are IMMENSELY Funny. I realized most of the jokes I'd written were just puns and false cognates. I am not writing a pun book. One of the first jokes I wrote was about Pizza Hut: "What do you call a Mongolian Pizza Hut? Pizza Yurt." That will not be in the joke book because it's simple and bad. It's not even about Pizza Hut.

Here are twenty more Pizza Hut jokes. They start bad, but get better. So, please, when you're waffling about paying $4.20 for the completed joke book, remember that this list could have been half of it, but I chose to do good by you. Move your mouse over the Pizza Hut logos for the punchlines.

What do you call a Pizza Hut...
  1. with halls of mirrors or rows of card tables?
    Pizza Palace
  2. in northern Thailand or Philadelphia?
    Pizza Temple
  3. in Memphis or run by Bernie Madoff?
    Pizza Pyramid
  4. in a sketchy part of Hong Kong or popular with grizzly bears?
    Pizza Den
  5. that orbits beyond Neptune?
    Pizza Dwarf Planet
  6. at the North Pole?
    Pizza Igloo
  7. at the South Pole?
    Pizza Research Station
  8. in an airplane cockpit?
    Pizza HUD
  9. in the lobby of Hotel Rwanda?
    Pizza Hutu
  10. that manages social networking?
    Pizza Hoot-suite
  11. that Happy Gilmore struggles with?
    Pizza Putt
  12. run according to George W. Bush's foreign policy decision-making?
    Pizza Gut
  13. coordinating and conjoined with another Pizza Hut?
    Pizza But
  14. that obviously sticks out from the rest of the community?
    Pizza Jut
  15. adored piecemeal around the world despite being long past its prime?
    Pizza Tut
  16. where people eat without being properly warned of the ingredients and turn violently ill?
    Pizza Nut
  17. designed to warn snitches and deadbeats?
    Pizza Cut
  18. that's a bastard of a bitch of a place to eat?
    Pizza Mutt
  19. is in the midst of an existential crisis?
    Pizza Rutt
  20. that has achieved enlightenment and reached nirvana?
    Pizza Not
  21. from Gordium and travelling at 20¼ inches per second?
    Pizza Knot

June 29, 2014

Burying the Lead [sic]

Today we're going to be discussing leadership and successful strategies that connect people to opportunities by using networking tools to achieve global solutions.
No, we're not doing that. I would never do that. Don't you ever say anything like that to me. I've actually just been thinking about leading and how often I've been told I am or will be a leader. This is not a humblebrag post. You've probably all heard the same thing at some ineffectively enthusiastic welcome/training/launch event. But unlike you who are just sitting on your hands and not stepping up, I'm using my hands to write while not stepping up.

In the latest X-Mans movie, James McAvoy plays young Professor X, and I couldn't help but identify with his character. I too live in a secluded estate with a biochemist for a butler. I spend my days dressed like Oscar Wilde cosplaying The Dude. Regular injections and Johnnie Walker Black get me through each day of exhausting idleness. But those are just the obvious, superficial reasons why I identify with Charles Xavier.

Like the not-yet-good doctor, I avoid bringing together the people I know and love, probably because I'm afraid of letting myself care too much about them. And I don't think I'm alone with James McAvoy in feeling this way, or I'd just be writing this in my secret diary. Spending a lot of time in your head doesn't just make you forget that you have a physical body that needs to move—not talking about Professor X's wheelchair—it also makes you forget that you have an emotional/spiritual/essential corpus that needs to move. You can lead from a wheelchair, but not from an intrinsic grave.

That got sappy fast. We'll zoom out to less personal discussion. The Roman dictator Cincinnatus classically demonstrates the reluctant assumption of leadership, but Cincinnatus relinquished his ad hoc dictatorship when the hoc was done. Politics is a form of leadership I don't want to think about, so I wonder about ordinary social leadership. And I mean 'social' as in groups of friends or people you know, not social as in 'society'. <Skip to the picture all ye who enter here.> The adjectival form of the latter is usually 'societal', but that's not too helpful a distinction because society is itself a social construction. That intellectual trope is possibly tautological and is vainly repeatable; it can lead to an endless reflexivity of questions uninterested in answers; it can also lead to a retreat into monocausality. It justifiably leaves open the question of who is doing the constructing: Us; Them; 'the patriarchy'; media; 'culture'; culture/media and patriarchy that are necessarily ours in that they're human and here and now and cannot exist divorced from all 'our' lived experience(s); said forces also somehow never inclusive of or influenced by me or mine, but definitely not of/by me individually or I'm totally deluded; just The Matrix and I; all of the above in a combination that leads to a shrug of the shoulders, sigh, and metaphysical defeat, complacency, or acceptance?

That got pedantic fast. I'm sorry, so here's a picture of Gerald Ford with the Queen:

Now I'll return to my original line of thought: "I wonder about ordinary social leadership." In the X-Mans movie, a bunch of people rallied around the professor because he finally surrendered his fears about leading them. He got people to join up by opening himself up, letting himself show that he cared about them. If it had been some forceful presidential campaign,* then the ex-mans wouldn't have shown up. Ordinary social leadership.

So, yeah. While you were just sitting on your hands, I used my hands to write this. That's almost like doing something, and maybe I'll do something too... soon.

*Gerald Ford wasn't elected to the presidency.
P.S. I swear the saga of my three weeks in Scandinavia is forthcoming, just like the sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

May 09, 2014

We, the Busmen

All strike and no pay suck buses of their joy. Passing no judgement on the grievances of Underground workers or their negotiation methods, I lament the effects the Tube strikes have had on bus routes. Putt-putting through the city is as ‘London’ to me as ordering coffee from non-English-speaking baristas, and the red double-deckers have been rattled. The light of grey skies now blinding so many unearthed commuters clearly illuminates the culture clash between the Tubers and We, the Busmen.

Welcome to your new morning commute.

The bus is cheaper and slower than the Tube. It is also less populated and has far more personality. Anyone with a baby buggy, wheelchair, or ‘less able to stand’ must take the bus. During rush hour in the Tube, everyone operates with limited mobility; I cannot imagine navigating that labyrinth with a handicap. All are welcome and accommodated on the bus, co-existing harmoniously. Pensioners—the vigilante free riders—do not mind students presumptuously slouching in the reserved seats nearly as much as being offered said seats. Elders and students are joined by those who cannot go without phone reception for more than ten minutes. They speak all the world’s languages on their phones, loudly and stressfully. They too form a vital part of this fleeting community.

At each stop, someone will lean in to ask if the bus goes to a particular destination. They are those ‘less able’ to read color-coded pictographs. Someone always scrambles to pay the meager fare with loose change or a Boots Advantage Card. And someone always pushes the stop button vigorously between stops or at the route terminus. All these delays and eccentricities imbue the bus with a character not found underground.

The Tube is as much a part of London’s international image as double-deckers, but ‘mind the gap’ is as much a sociological warning as a safety notice. The overwhelming majority of commuters are Tubers, over one billion per year according to TFL. Excepting tourists, the Underground is overflowing with the headphoned masses. Disillusioned middle managers, dodgy loners, and dejected students huddle together on carriages hurtling through darkness. Hope for two adjacent empty seats is the opiate of these masses.

Nevertheless, just like the underwater Gungan city and the Naboo, the Tube and streets could not live without each other. What else but the Underground map could convince newcomers that London has a logical layout? How would we know the borders of gentrification without numbered zones? Imagine the chaos if no one knew to stand on the right and walk on the left! And I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t know the smell of sweet, carcinogenic Tube wind.

But despite their culture, when Tubers meet busmen, they invade. The crowds give me flashbacks to nightmare night buses. The ad hoc bus community I described does not exist past 8 pm, for the headphones come off at night, and the cacophony surpasses even the crowd. If you manage to get a seat amongst the city’s skulkers, you may well be sharing it with pub vomit.

The night bus really is the Bipolar Express. Besides the nightmare ride described above, for whose pickup you might wait forty minutes, there is the chance your bus will behave like a coked-up black cab—flying through normally congested streets and only stopping when YOU push the button. This might be the only time the bus outpaces the Tube.

Tubers are not the night bus crowd, but they are not the bus crowd I have grown to love. At some point the Tube will resume regular operation and travel patterns will return to normalcy, but the days I have walked my bus routes will not fade from memory. They have been better for my body and wallet, and I have matched or exceeded the speed of my buses. But I continue to look forward to boarding a double-decked horseless carriage once more, crawling down medieval cow paths hugged by Victorian facades.

March 21, 2014

Happy-fun-time movie reviews!: Lost, Translating, Adapting

So I've been watching movies. Since this is such a radical change in my life, I've decided to share my thoughts on two recent viewings: Adaptation. and Lost in Translation. This post is not a seven-point list full of pictures and videos, so feel free to leave now. I've already gotten a precious pageview that I can add to the other dozen for the month.

Besides their rhyming, there are obvious connections in the production of the films. Charlie Kaufman wrote the former and Spike Jonze directed. Sofia Coppola wrote and directed the latter, and the photographer-husband character is based on Spike when the two were married. Nicholas Cage, protagonist of Adaptation., is first cousins with Sofia. I'm going to be referring to all the characters in these films by the names of the actors who played them. This is way more natural than character names.

The thematic connections of Adaptation. and Lost in Translation exceed the production coincidences, basically: love cures isolation and inspires. At the beginning of each film we find two characters who feel depressed. They are inadequate despite living in already established or privileged situations: Nick Cage, Meryl Streep; Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson.

The characters feel like strangers in a strange land, and not just the two in Japan. Nick Cage and Meryl Streep wander around Los Angeles, New York, and the bayou, wading through malaise. All characters are searching for a deeper, personal meaning in their lives in some way or another. They feel disconnected in what are supposed to be loving relationships. Nick Cage is the only one not married, but he's dating someone and lives with his twin brother.

No character has found a sufficient coping mechanism. Cage and Streep can't write themselves out of the rut. Murray and Johansson don't find vocational fulfillment either. Unlike naval exercises in the East China Sea, Japan is no help here.

But when the credits roll, all is well. Value in some type of one-on-one connection has inspired hope in life, and this hope is not limited to the value of that connection alone. Murray and Johansson—spoiler alert?—don't get together in the end. They nevertheless come away with a sense of renewed purpose. In both films, the fulfillment of internal emptiness is demonstrated through the classic, masculine movie trope of riding off into the sunset. This is the 21st century, so it's cars on freeways. Adaptation. employs this trope more faithfully, and that's fitting for a movie whose third act is supposed to ironically demonstrate good Hollywood structure. As the renowned screenplay workshop guru had told Cage: "You can have flaws, problems, but wow them in the end, and you've got a hit."

Everyone has found hope through love. Even though these are tougher films to interpret, this can be read into the titles of each film. It's by 'adapting', or "figuring out how to thrive in the world," that Cage and Streep march into the bright future. Having been briefly, rapturously 'lost' in 'translating' their love to each other across a generation in a foreign country, Murray and Johannson also enjoy respective happily-ever-afters.

I'm not hatin'. If the above paragraphs read disparagingly it's only a product of my voice which, you might not have noticed, tends toward sarcasm and irony. I empathize with all four characters and love both movies, or I wouldn't be writing this. It's just that the takeaways from each film haven't been lasting inspiration for me, and I want to explain why. Thus, as I continue to pick apart these films I'll write in the first person—also because keeping case and tense consistent while discussing two characters from two films has been as difficult as finding a nutritious non-Pret meal for less than £5.

I've been struck with inspiration several times, but this enthusiasm has not lasted. It's not that the inspiration itself did not give good direction but that I did not reinforce it with other people. Before, say, a little prince told me to 'tame' people and see with my heart, I felt distant from people. After reading those inspiring words, I eventually drifted back to a peripheral mood anyway. I was banking on the value I had stored in my mind to energize my actions. 'Principle' injunctions et. al. have not been the problem in and of themselves, but my trying to follow them in and of myself proved ineffective.

"Selflessness! Love other people! Don't be afraid to ask for help! People around you love you!" Right. Those words don't help me. There are two other films I sympathized with that show and don't tell, if briefly, application of personal inspiration.

The King's Speech and Silver Linings Playbook were my favorite movies of 2011 and 2012-3. Besides the connection I felt to each protagonist, their happily-ever-afters show more than themselves or even them with their girls. Lionel sees 'Bertie' standing with his whole family and waving to a crowd representing the adoring British nation. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence make out on a La-Z-Boy recliner, excessively, in a house full of their friends and family socializing together in peak form. I'm not going to fault Charlie-slash-Spike or Sofia for ending their films with solo rides into the sunset. No other ending would make sense for those films. In fact, both imply a widening joy from personal revelation. But it helps to see things.

King's Speech and Silver Linings show a central relationship holding together an orbit of other revitalized people, and they imply said orbiters strengthening the center. King's Speech seems to indicate that the entire British Empire will benefit from George VI's victory over adversity. All this from a turnaround within oneself? Wow. I've never been so lucky as to experience that!

A personal revelation with a wider application does not a higher application make, nor does it necessarily produce love flowing throughout. I know I'll be far better off focusing more on making and letting that happen. I'm also gonna keep on watching movies, mining them for flecks of gold. Then I can acquire your precious, precious pageviews and take over the world.

February 17, 2014

7 Reasons/Ways I celebrate Black History Month

It's the shortest month of the year, and we're already more than halfway through it. For those who protest that there is no White History Month remember that there are 11 other months, and tabula rasa tends toward the pale in North America. I'm following QI criteria to only list items that are not obvious and 'quite interesting', so the following candidates will not be included: Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama... or Nicki Minaj. This is another list of seven, and also part of my apparent impulse to celebrate more minor American holidays* while abroad. I view each item as both a reason and means to celebrate.

1. Blues/Jazz/R&B/Funk/Rap
That's a roughly chronological list of genres uniquely American, i.e. African-American. When Mr. K toured our choir around Austria-Hungary we sang mostly Negro spirituals: "No one in Vienna wants to hear a bunch of Americans sing Mozart to them." But really. America has riffed on, improved, then popularized so many things not native to the land between shining seas, but the Blues—and all its musical progeny—are 'ours'. Coping under the wretched, 'Peculiar Institution' has begotten all modern music. Yes, I have a playlist. It's been well reviewed.

2. Lando Calrissian
According to Wookieepedia: "Lando Calrissian was a male human professional gambler, entrepreneur, smuggler, and general throughout various points in his life." That's a lede I'd be proud to boast as my epitaph. Star Trek was far more socially progressive than Star Wars, but Lando. He runs Cloud City and is an even smoother operator than Han Solo. If it's possible, Billy Dee Williams might be even cooler:

I haven't re-watched Empire Strikes Back this February, but Lando is my wallpaper. If I can find some Colt 45, it's all over.

3. Omar
I'll stay in the realm of fiction for a moment (though The Wire is realer than reality). Omar is indisputably the best character on that best of shows, and Obama has stated that Omar is his personal favorite too. The President admitting he likes Omar, a homosexual street thug who casually robs drug dealers, would be controversial if it weren't a universally shared opinion. The Wire is full of other excellently-crafted black characters. Bunk, Daniels, and Snoop are all memorable and awesome in their own right. Stringer Bell could easily be his own item on this list. But Omar's awesome-ness holds up in a court of law.

I unbutton my rain coat for my end-of-the-day saunter to my flat door, saying to myself "Omar's coming." I lack a shotgun and the erstwhile intimidation of my beard, but Omar instills in me a confidence I would not otherwise have— and probably shouldn't have.

4. Black Dynamite
"Three fictional examples? So there are no real black persons worth celebrating?!" Art imitates life and life imitates art, so I don't think citing inspiration black characters is a cop out. It's worth acknowledging that Lando, Omar and Black Dynamite are all hyper-masculine, bad "shut your mouth!"s. Omar is gay, but that doesn't make him an exception here. More broadly, though, subtly noble male protagonists are not in the contemporary imaginarium anyway. O, Atticus Finch, where art thou?

Digression. This movie and protagonist are modern parodies of Blaxploitation films. All the best scenes are in the trailer. I try to remind myself to smile like Black Dynamite all year long, not just in February.

5. Neil deGrasse Tyson
I could easily have made this whole post just the list with no explanations, because each one of these speaks for themselves. There are way too many YouTube videos of Tyson explaining astrophysics in a way that's both understandable and inspiring, so I can't pick one. Having watched them all and developed an awe for his intellect and enthusiasm, I can't stop laughing at something he never said:

6. Chicken & Waffles
Preferably Roscoe's, but this is a winning combo wherever you go. Don't knock it till you've tried it. I know a mustachioed man who once thought it sounded as wrong as fish tacos, and he is a full convert. Soul food is a tall order anyway, but I find I have to fast for 24 hours to properly enjoy this combination.

I wish I may and wish I might, this February to have one bite. I've heard tell it's a possible order at a 'diner' down the street from me, but I find this suspect.

Not to be confused with Chickun & Raffles.
(I regret that this is so funny to me and so obscure. If you get and appreciate this joke please contact me so we can begin a lifelong friendship. Disclaimer: I couldn't care less about MLP in Singapore.)

7. Cop out
Inserting this photo breaks the word laid down at the beginning and effectively short-changes this list by one... oh. This is actually the most representative of black history.

*Happy Presidents Day. All politics aside, this is too cool.

January 19, 2014

7 People who should, but never ever will, work together

Here's another list of seven. I have more lists of seven forthcoming. This is because I've decided against publishing another Amazon e-book, A Series of Eleven Sevens. Know that this is a great sacrifice on my part, for Knighttime Loop sales indicate that e-book would have been a New York Times bestseller. You get the blog posts you deserve.

Unfortunately, these pairings assume a level of cultural knowledge that—I've been recently and repeatedly reminded—almost no one shares. This grieves me, as it's a barrier to much communication. So I've tried to supply links to help out, but I'm guessing that's not going to be enough to appreciate all of these. WHATEVER. Take away what you will and forget what sounds like hipster nonsense, while knowing that I have and hate my hipster tendencies. You're supposed to write what you know, so.

1. Charlie Day & Julian Barratt (Howard Moon)
I would die of giddiness. Everyone's favorite character from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia was very obviously the best part of Horrible Bosses. He was also amazing in Pacific Rim, his first appearance not acting manic or mentally handicapped. For his collaboration with Julian, however, he would need to act so.

And Julian would need to reprise his character from The Mighty Boosh. Re-watching the third series, I'm struck how Vince became a total diva and overshadowed his jazz maverick, wood shop teacher counterpart. Come on, who wouldn't love to see Howard crimping with the creator of 'Dayman' instead of a Camden leisure pirate? Also, it's in the cards: Charlie Day and Howard Moon. Done.

"Just so we're clear, what's your spaghetti policy here?"
"I'm a man about town, Charlie. I haven't got time for spaghetti policies."

2. Nick Offerman & Zach Galifiankis
Admittedly, this was stolen from a YouTube comment, though I've no idea how to cite it because of the new Google+ tyranny. The perfect situation for these two would be a father-son movie. Even though in real life Zach is a year older than Offerman, the latter is clearly the father figure. No major studio would finance a movie starring a comedic duo so physically similar, what with their beards and robust constitutions. (Number one is a far more traditional duo physically.) But I just love the idea of Alan frustrating Ron Swanson's attempts to teach him how to be a man. Also, judging from real-life interviews with both men, anything they would do out of character would be even crazier good.

3. Nicki Minaj & Jill Tracy
The pairing of the technicolor queen of hip-hop with a spooky, probably occultist singer-songwriter would produce my ideal sound—what I hoped Janelle Monáe would sound like. 89% cacao rainbow sherbet? Yes please.

This chocolate isn't dark enough, but you get the picture.

4. Terrence Malick & Quentin Tarantino
He who most needs a writer meets the best writer. He who most needs an editor meets the best editor. These two auteurs are so antipodal in personality, working style, tone and subject matter I literally cannot imagine what film they would create together. Like, I've thought about it a lot and really can't. It would either be awesome or terrible, but I wish dearly it would be at all.

Here's the only thing I could find that mentions both. It doesn't mash them up, but it's funny and underviewed. PG-13 as well for all those reading with your kids. For my purposes, you can stop watching at 5:35.

5. Ted Kooser & Andrew Stanton
This one's more modest. For a long time I held Ted Kooser as my favorite poet, and Delights & Shadows is still my favorite collection. Stanton wrote and directed Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Toy Story 3. Kooser's observations of "the life at play in things," usually the daily and ordinary, imagined visually by Pixar would just deplete all the dopamine in my brain.

6. Slavoj Žižek & Maya Angelou
Slavoj is the only popular philosopher I know of, but he presents his thoughts like a crack head who just got braces put on. If his applications of Kant and Marx to Edward Snowden were filtered through Angelou's velvet-cake ethos, I think the world would be a more thoughtful place. And I say that as someone who takes issues with most of their views.

7. Richard Nixon & Peter Kropotkin
Both of these great men are dead, so I will never know what this looks like. (Kissinger is alive, but there are no comparably eminent anarchists around to pair him with.) Even though I'm a huge fan of the label 'Independent' and its infinite meanings, it's now very tempting to switch this out for 'Anarcho-Realpolitik' on my Facebook profile. Regardless, Nixon/Kropotkin 2016: we can have "[world] peace with stability" and the "silent majority" can rule themselves. Their monetary policy would be a perfect paradox and should be implemented immediately.

BONUS: Dizzy (Benjamin Disraeli) and Izzy (Hawaiian musician)
They rhyme.